Big Men’s Boots: Emily Barroso

Slate grey plant EB 2

Afternoon readers, couple of things before throwing myself into today’s review. Firstly, I just want to say a big thank you for all the comments, likes and views so far during 2015 (I know we’re only two months in.) I have really good feelings about this year and having such wonderful support makes it all the more encouraging. Secondly an apology; this is the book that I used to write a message and then leave on the train to celebrate the engagement of two dear friends. However despite writing the review, posting it slipped my mind and it’s been sat wedged in my reviews folder for around a month. Organisation is one of the new resolutions I’m currently trying to implement and hopefully will continue to over the coming year (obviously it’s not quite there yet.) So big apologies and onto the review.

Set in North Wales during the last great Welsh Revival, amongst people who were experiencing the miraculous on a grand scale, Big Men’s Boots exposes the lie that Christianity is a tame experience. Here is supernatural Christianity as experienced by the men, women and children of the Bible. Born the child of Welsh Revivalists, in the stunning mountain region of North Wales, Owen is steeped in the Biblical language and the songs of the chapels; but as his encounters and visions increase and following instruction from another seer prophet, Anna, who has been predicting local events for the past fifty years, Owen begins a struggle with faith that will take him across the world and back again, through all that life has to offer, as well as death, as he battles with The Way, The Truth and The Life. Will he accept his calling or let it go? Ultimately it is a choice, and one he is not sure he is able to make.

So as a reader I tend to approach religious novels with a little bit of unease and apprehension. It’s not that I don’t enjoy them or enjoy reading them I just sometimes worry I’ll find them a little dense and difficult to read but I was happily surprised. As described in the blurb the book is set in North Wales and follows Owen a young male struggling with his beliefs and his religion, mainly due to the visions he keeps experiencing. As we follow Owen we will learn more about him and his family as they continue to grapple with their faith and the difficulties around them during the great Welsh Revival and the political unrest that is growing. Told through the mind of Owen, a young boy struggling with the death of his best friend we follow him as he searches for meaning throughout his spiritual journey.

This is a lovely little book full of style and history. I think the reason this book works so well is because it comes from a historical, social and cultural side rather than a wholly religious side. It obviously is a theme that runs throughout the book and is the main topic but it doesn’t feel too overwhelming because so many other themes are interwoven throughout. The book on the whole is set in North Wales during the 1904 revival, and using a small slate quarrying village as the backdrop the book weaves a tale of poverty and hardship but is constantly uplifted by the community spirit and the characters faith in their religion. This contrasted with the political unrest at the time that is sympathetically managed helps make a interesting tale. It is a moving story and is both believable and incredibly engaging. I found myself feeling more involved and intrigued by the book and learning about the rifts that were emerging during this time period. The story centres on the Evan’s family who have Christian beliefs and despite their father being a Baptist pastor he conveys the same doubts that surround the Christian faith and are discussed today making it feel more real and honest about Christianity and religion as a whole.

The descriptions of the rugged Welsh landscapes are beautifully described and the language used throughout really helps to transport the reader to the little village. The characters are well built up especially Owen who is an incredibly sensitive and sweet character and his family are built with effervescent character profiles that continue to evolve as the book continues. The plot moves with the perfect amount of pace and although not a huge amount of action, in contrast to some fiction books, it didn’t bog down in too much description helping to move the narrative along. In terms of negatives for me some of the more wild visions that Owen had made me question how believable the story was and how much was fact and fiction in terms of the characters belief in religion, but being a lover of historical fiction it is also a positive showing how submerged I was in the novel and the characters.

Overall I would really recommend this wonderfully written book and a very well researched novel. The style is beautifully written and although I personally know very little about this time in history I feel like I was opened up to something rather magical. Even if you’re not interested in a story that tells a religious story it is worth a read for the style of writing alone. I have another book in the pipeline to read from this author, and after reading this I really can’t wait. Wonderful.

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